Long-expected summit had low expectations

China Daily
Wang Xinjuan
2021-06-17 15:45:41
US President Joe Biden and Russia's President Vladimir Putin meet for the US-Russia summit at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

The Geneva summit of United States President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin did not present "a big set of deliverables". But that is within anticipation, and does not weaken the significance of the meeting.

It is unrealistic to expect the summit to produce anything comparable to the 1985 Geneva summit between then US and Soviet leaders Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, which has been credited with lifting their countries out of the Cold War. That kind of "reset" is simply out of the question in the present atmosphere when the two countries find themselves at loggerheads over a long list of issues. With US sanctions in place and Russia-bashing running riot in Washington, substantial improvement will not take place overnight.

Yet, that the US and Russian leaders met at all, in spite of their deep mutual distrust, is of far-reaching significance to their bilateral relationship, to that between Russia and the West, and to all stakeholders in global stability.

Proceeding from their common pre-summit judgment that US-Russia ties are at their lowest ebb in decades, neither party entered the talks with high expectations, leaving many to believe no substantive headway would be made with both parties intent on making clear their respective "red line".

But clarifying or reiterating such red lines is an important part of crisis management, particularly amid the dangerously escalating tensions at present. The Biden-Putin summit has therefore served the immediate need for management of their frictions, and may set the stage for constructive engagement in areas of common interest.

Unlike their snappy rhetorical exchanges across the ocean, the face-to-face talks are more suitable for some coolheaded discussion about their strategic intentions and prospects for the bilateral relationship, which are no doubt conducive to injecting some predictability into it. And easing the current tensions are in both countries' interests: the US wants it so that it can focus more on greater perceived "threats", Russia needs a relief from external pressures.

If Washington is serious about its claim of willingness to cooperate with Moscow in selected areas, there are plenty of those where the two countries' and the international community's interests converge: arms control, military transparency, climate change, pandemic containment among other things.

Their recent success in extending the New START nuclear arms limitation treaty was proof the relationship remains manageable as long as both sides want it to be.

The foremost obstacle to US-Russia fence-mending is the distrust between them. If the summit has eased some of that, then it can be deemed a success even if there are no immediate outcomes.


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